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More chaos at the top of Alberta Health Services: Two-headed CEO appointed

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Duncan Campbell

This just in! Alberta Government replaces Alberta Health Services CEO …. again!

The revolving door to the AHS executive suite is now spinning so quickly somebody's going to get hurt. Unless, that is, everybody stays calm….

Now, it's true that Duncan Campbell, who was put in the top job at AHS just 30 days ago when former CEO Dr. Chris Eagle decided he'd had had enough and was about to take flight, was only an acting CEO.

Still, nobody expected Campbell to be out the door quite this quickly. As the Edmonton Journal reported at the time, "the man appointed as the interim leader of the province's health authority will face major challenges in the months ahead, not the least of which is helping to restore confidence in a beleaguered system." (Emphasis added.)

The Journal reporter went on in that Oct. 18 report to say Campbell "will be asked to clean up a number of messes left behind by the sudden resignation of Dr. Chris Eagle." Presumably not much cleaning got done in the 30 days before Campbell, as they say at AHS, transitioned out of the top job.

Certainly, Campbell didn't expect to go so soon. As he wrote to his senior "leadership team" in his first days on the job, "We've been operating in crisis mode in many parts of the organization for too long. We need to move away from the storm and turn our ship toward calmer, safer waters."

Well, so much for that plan!

The news of yet another big stormy change leaked out last night when an email surfaced from AHS Administrator Dr. John Cowell, the one-man board appointed by Alberta Health Minister Fred Horne only a month before Campbell became CEO. “Duncan Campbell will return to his role as Chief Financial Officer and I'd like to thank him for his leadership and assistance through this transition," Cowell wrote before getting to who was about to replace him.

Back in September 2012, alert readers will recall, Cowell told a Calgary Sun columnist: "No high-performing organization gets anywhere unless people come to work and feel safe to do their job. We've got to get that culture going."

Um, so much for that plan too.

Campbell, readers will also remember, was hired to replace Alauddin Merali, the AHS CFO fired for filing spectacular but completely approved expense claims in a previous job with a previous Alberta health care employer.

Whatever triggered yesterday's unexpected announcement, Cowell assured the Calgary Herald, it had "absolutely" nothing to do with Campbell's Tweet earlier this month in which he promised AHS would not seek private-sector bids for a $3-billion medical testing lab in Edmonton after physicians and other staff members protested.

Campbell was swiftly overruled on that one by Health Minister Fred Horne -- who for all intents and purposes appears to be the de facto CEO of AHS. Nothing had changed in the government’s plan to privatize lab services, Horne snapped, closing the book on that episode.

So, where are we now? "Effective today, the role of Interim CEO will be shared by Brenda Huband and Rick Trimp," Cowell wrote in his email. "The decision to create a co-CEO position highlights the complexity of the role and the need for our organization to focus on clinical operations. Brenda and Rick both have extensive clinical backgrounds and will bring their collective experience and skill sets to the role."

Got that? Huband has been a senior health care manager in Calgary for years. Trimp, who hails from Saskatchewan, has only been here about a year.

"By the end of November, we will launch an international search for a new CEO," Cowell went on -- and I don’t want to hear any sarcastic comments about some guy in Australia being available. "This search will move forward as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we will all do what we do best: focus on providing quality health care and services for Albertans. This is our priority."

But if you thought the confusion might be coming to an end, consider this: "The Executive Team and I have made the decision to slow the ongoing leadership structure review, with the intent to take the time required to engage with staff and clinicians, and also to recognize that the new CEO will require input on our final organizational structure," the email said.

In other words, everything will change again tomorrow!

Cowell must sense this may cause a certain ennui, perhaps even angst, within the ranks at AHS. At any rate, he picked up on Campbell's calmer-waters theme from a month ago, urging his readers, "Now is the time for stability and calm…"

The reality at AHS today: Chaos and panic.

Who said Toronto has all the fun?

Let Chaos Reign! Alberta Health Services Senior Management Timeline

May 2008 – Premier Ed Stelmach Government creates Alberta Health Services

May 2008 – Ken Hughes named as first Chair of AHS

March 2009 – Dr. Stephen Duckett takes job as first CEO

November 2010 – Duckett fired by Stelmach Government after Notorious Cookie Incident ™

November 2010 – Dr. Chris Eagle named to replace Duckett as CEO

Dec. 28, 2011 – Ken Hughes resigns to run for the new government of Premier Alison Redford

Sept. 4, 2012 – Stephen Lockwood named to replace Hughes by Redford’s health minister, Fred Horne

June 11, 2012 – Lockwood and AHS board defy Horne’s orders not to pay previously contracted bonuses to AHS senior executives

June 12, 2013 – Horne fires Lockwood and entire board

June 12, 2013 – Horne replaces board with a single administrator, former consultant and health executive Janet Davidson

Sept. 10, 2013 – Horne promotes Davidson to deputy minister

Sept. 10, 2013 – Horne, or maybe Davidson, names Dr. John Cowell as administrator

Oct. 17, 2013 – Eagle announces he plans to quit

Oct. 17, 2013 – Cowell names CFO Duncan Campbell acting CEO

Late Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 – Cowell moves Campbell back to CFO job

Late Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 – Cowell appoints Brenda Huband and Rick Trimp as co-CEO

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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